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It is stated this letter was written in “reply to a note expressing sympathy with the Rear Admiral in the personal annoyances he has suffered in the controversy with Rear Admiral Schley.”
The fact that Admiral Sampson was infirm, suffering from nervous disease, has for sometime been largely known. He was treated by Admiral Schley, and his counsel and friends, with the most delicate consideration and respectful attention. No one has forgotten that the Admiral in his youth was a hero, and went down with his ship in Charleston Harbor, and that right or wrong in the unhappy controversy over the varied Santiago strife, he should not when his strength has failed, be held to a rigorous accountability for the errors of others. The truth is not according to the testimony, that he is broken in health on account of the Santiago nightmare, but that the origin of the difficulty was that the strain upon him caused the eccentric incidents, that have prevented the just division of honors, as Admiral Schley said, “honors enough for all.” History will approve the saying and award the division and both admirals will be gratefully remembered in the record that final public opinion will bestow.
The position of the President is that of seeing both sides of the question, and in heated terms of contention, the judicial attitude seems to those under the influence of personal and local excitement, in disregard of the temperature of the combatants.
Rear Admiral Schley appealed to the President from the findings of the Court of Inquiry, and asked the President to set aside the endorsement of the Secretary of the Navy of the findings, and approve the individual opinion of the presiding member of the court, in which he said:
"Commodore Schley was the senior officer of our squadron off Santiago when the Spanish squadron attempted to escape on the morning of July 3, 1898. He was in absolute command and is entitled to the credit due such commanding officer.”
Admiral Sampson retired February 9, 1901, having reached the age limit of active service. The Army and Navy Journal states, on the authority of the Admiral's physicians, that "his mind is not clear, and he can not move around without the support of an attendant;" and his case is with authority pronounced "extremely critical.”
During a trip West and South from Charleston to Chicago, and again South, Admiral Schley was constantly received by the public with enthusiasm, and very strongly stated his purpose to keep out of politics.
The President's friends very largely do not have the pleasure of agreeing with him in his review of the Schley-Sampson Santiago case. He is right in saying the action of the American fleet destroying that of the Spaniards was a "captains' battle," and Schley, whatever is said of the signals, was in front and Sampson was last in the procession. It was not the merit of the one ahead to
be there, or the fault of the other to be in the rear. Sampson, technically in command, was far out of the fight. The word "technical” should be used in respect to the “loop” that is charged so seriously to Schley. The loop Sampson made in running up the coast when the fight was over, was a longer one, and avoided the opportunity of the occasion. Sampson's ever present idea was that the Spanish fleet must be plugged up in the harbor. The true hopefulness was that the Spaniards should come out, to be, as it was, destroyed; and the Spanish guns at the mouth of the harbor were over-rated. Sampson's caution under Navy Department orders did not permit him to strike a blow in aid of the army. Blanco's technical command that the feet should go out, was the breakage of the monotony. The American fleet was more than twice as powerful as that of the Spaniards, and the only hope Cervera had of getting away was to damage the Brooklyn, and run to Cienfuegos or around the West end of Cuba to Havana.
The alleged "misstatements” of Schley were technical, and the disobedience of orders also. The President gives him credit for what he "did in the fight,” and his share of the glory of it will not be affected. It is what one does in the fight that counts. The paper of the President is pervaded by a spirit of showing fair play all around, and an anxiety to close the subject. There has been the official bearing of the Navy constantly to regard as an influence, and there has been duly considered, and properly, the illness of Sampson, and the remembrance of his gallant service when a young man, and his great and useful scientific attainments and personal accomplishments. All these things have plead for him, and there is to be added the public sense that he was in hard luck that fateful morning, to have been called away to consult Shafter at Siboney. The broad truths of history must take into account the fact of the extreme cautiousness of the Navy Department after Theodore Roosevelt left the "technical” citadel of the Navy for activity in the Army.
July 8th, five days after the Spanish fleet was burned and sunk, Blanco cabled to the War Minister at Madrid, General Correa:
"The army, always ready for any sacrifice for the sake of the nation, remains intact up to the present time, and is still full of spirit, for it is maintaining itself in Santiago de Cuba with vigor."
The dispatch continued in boastful terms to laud the Spanish army and promise the continuance of the fighting ashore.
Admiral Sampson, after the Spanish ships that left the harbor had been put out of the combat, was still afraid that more ships would get out, as if that was not the thing exactly to be prayed for. He said as a reason for ordering the Indiana to turn back to watch for more Spaniards:
"There are still some armed vessels remaining in the harbor of Santiago -at least two, and we did not know then how many more—which could have
come out in the fleet and produced great havoc among the troopships, which were defenseless in the absence of an armed vessel.”
The Heraldo of Madrid, August 22nd, 1898, published the report of Cervera. He says the Brooklyn was “on account of her speed the vessel most dreaded” and when the departure was effected, "we steered the pre-arranged course.” • The Spanish Office of Naval Intelligence published the diary of Lieutenant Jose Muller y Tejeiro, second in command of Naval forces of the province of Santiago de Cuba.
“July 4. Opposite the mouth of the harbor, the New York, Brooklyn, Indiana, Massachusetts, Minneapolis, Vesuvius, one yacht and seventeen merchant vessels. At eight P. M. the cruiser Reina Mercedes started up. As the interior of the harbor did no longer have the safeguard of the fleet, as the Bustamente torpedoes (six of them) had been taken up so that the fleet could go out and had not yet been replaced, and as, finally, the first line of mines no longer existed, the commander of marine decided-General Toral also being of his opinion—to sink the Mercedes (the only ship that was suitable for that purpose) in the narrow part of the channel; consequently the command of the cruiser received orders to do so.”
The sinking of the Mercedes did not close the harbor. Here it appears the door was open to the helpless city, and Sampson, though the New York and Oregon were amply able to answer for the Colon, hastened to overtake the Colon, when the battle was over and lost the hours when he could have entered the harbor and placed the city under the guns of the fleet, compelling immediate and unconditional surrender.
The Mercedes was a damaged ship, the boilers given out and her effective guns sent ashore. The Atlantic Squadron had suspended over it the apprehensive home rule order that our war boats must not be risked. That was not so when Roosevelt was in the Navy Department.
“Washington, February 25, 1898. “Dewey, Hong-Kong:
"Secret and confidential. Order the squadron, except Monocacy, to HongKong. Keep full of coal. In the event of declaration of war, Spain, your duty will be to see that the Spanish squadron does not leave the Asiatic coast, and then offensive operations in Philippine Islands. Keep Olympia until further orders.
ROOSEVELT.” The President has helped Admiral Schley to justice in this: He has wiped out the vulgar imputations of cowardice, and the fabric of that sort of falsehood, and he has relieved Sampson as well as Schley from the coveted pinnacle of the command in chief in action. He has said little of matters of which it was unnecessary to speak. Fame is not a tender plant and is especially the growth not of official judgment, but of public opinion.